About the movie...
From the American Film Institute:
According to studio production notes from AMPAS library files, writer Ron Turbeville based the film’s characters on people he knew in high school, specifically a girl he dated who was known as a “gang-bang.” Turbeville stated that the girl was abused by her parents, had no clothes and was starved for attention. He noted that similar girls were ubiquitous in American high schools.
Various contemporary sources, including Box on 17 Dec 1973, referred to the film’s working title, Black Creek Billie. The name appears at the beginning of the picture as graffiti in the boys’ bathroom.
A news item in Var on 24 Oct 1973 announced that Columbia Pictures acquired distribution rights to the film for $650,000 and reported a $400,000 profit for producer Ted Mann. However, Box stated that the budget for the picture was $350,000.
The film was shot on location in Statesboro, Georgia. Director Daniel Petrie told Box that he was lured to this location by Georgia’s Motion Picture and Television Advisory Committee, an organization established by former Georgia Governor, President Jimmy Carter. According to the article, the production team selected Georgia from five other Southern states because of the cooperation of the Committee, which helped scout locations and facilitated shooting arrangements.
Box noted that aside from the featured actors in the film, the remaining characters were cast with Statesboro locals. Studio production notes stated that there were only ten professional actors in the cast and added that some Statesboro townspeople played themselves. The principal actors were taken to the town before production started to study the local culture and dialect.
Props and wardrobe were also authentic to Statesboro, as described in production notes. A clothing store had dead stock from the 1940s and a local merchant provided the entire contents of a Statesboro grocery store that he purchased during that era. Vintage cars were rented or donated by residents.
On 1 Jun 1973, a DV news item announced that principal photography was complete. Box reported on 26 Jun 1973 that the shooting schedule included thirty days in and around Statesboro, Brunswick and St. Simons Island, Georgia.
RELEASE AND REVIEWS
Buster And Billie premiered in New York on August 21st 1974. Reviews were best described as mixed, with some critics unable or unwilling to overcome the film's sexual and violent subject matter and others, such as nationally recognized critic Roger Ebert calling it "an affecting story well told, it observes its teen-age characters with a fine insight, and it almost earns its tragic ending. Happy endings used to be Hollywood cliches; now, if we ever got one, it would almost feel original."
Other accolades followed including a promotional campaign to have Joan Goodfellow considered for an Oscar for her portrayal of "Billie". Reviews quoted for the Oscar promotion included, Newsweek "Beautifully affecting performance, gives Billie real tenderness and fragility", and Vogue "Wonderfully talented" as well as Independent Film Journal, " Tender, realistic and quite moving...surprisingly touching!"
BUSTER AND BILLIE GOES MISSING
During the theatrical release, Columbia Pictures had a brief period of time owning the rights to Buster And Billie before they were returned to Ted Mann Productions, the original production company of the film.
It would take until the early 1980's before there was interest in releasing the film to a brand new sort of media - the VHS home video market. In order to produce a quality copy of the film onto VHS, a transfer of the original film master known as the internegative, would be needed. When the production company reached out to Columbia for that film master, they were told it had been either lost or destroyed. A lower grade theater copy of the film on 35mm was used to create the VHS and television versions.
As time went on, even theater 35mm copies of Buster And Billie became scarce or unusable. Demand for the movie however, was growing. Many of the early critics had underestimated a cult classic film in the making. VHS rental tapes became the media of choice for low quality bootleg DVD copies of the film to fill the void of the missing movie.
THE TREASURE HUNT
In early 2019, after seeing the film for the first time on a low quality bootleg DVD, Seth Doherty began to look into the pop culture mystery of Buster And Billie. Making inquires at Columbia Pictures, he was told that the reason the film had never been restored and re-released was due to the missing and presumed destroyed film masters.
Undeterred, Seth set about planning a re-master based off an old 35mm theater copy that he had recently tracked down in Australia. It was not ideal, but perhaps would create a better version of the film than what was previously available. As he was arranging to have the film reels shipped to the U.S., he managed to locate the original producer of Buster And Billie, Ron Silverman. Ron and Seth discussed the project at length and while Ron was intrigued, he felt that a good remaster was simply not possible without the original internegative reels of the film.
Seth proceeded with his plan to remaster Buster And Billie based on the 35mm theater reels. "It didn't matter to me," he said "I was going to squeeze whatever quality I could out of the old reels even if it was just for my own movie collection....I was really that moved by the film. All of this happened because I became a super-fan after seeing the movie once." He approached and interviewed several production houses, and in a doing so developed a contact at Sony Pictures, owner of Columbia Pictures, who was willing to help get to the bottom of the mystery. The following week, Sony contacted Seth and reported that they did indeed have the original film master reels of Buster And Billie, not only that, but they were sitting on a large library of Buster And Billie elements.
As Columbia Pictures, and therefore Sony, no longer had rights to Buster And Billie they released the entire film element library to it's rightful owner - Ron Silverman. Ron arranged to have Sony ship the elements to Seth who then began the process of evaluating and cataloging the collection.
With the original film master in hand, Seth set about having Buster And Billie restored. There were several candidates who had the necessary technology to undertake the project, but it was decided that New York based Metropolis Post was the best. What was not known, however, was the overall condition of the master. It had been nearly 50 years since the film internegative had been used.
Metro Post first cleaned the entire master and then scanned each frame of the film at 2k quality per frame. The computer captured frames were then stitched together with software, effectively creating a digital version of the original master. Color correction came next. As film ages, it is not unusual for the once vibrant colors to wash out, fade or even turn different colors. Sony had kept the reels underground at a constant temperature and humidity, this made the Buster And Billie master virtually pristine. A light treatment was performed to enhance the colors and remove some scratches and dust that was baked into the original film.
Sound treatment came next. In a disappointing turn of events, it was discovered that the original sound master was never kept. The film master reels do not contain a soundtrack, only the picture, so audio needed to be added back in. Audio Mechanics and Rich Cutler Sound both worked to lift the sound from other existing elements and layer it back into the digital version of Buster And Billie.
With the process complete, screening copies were sent out to be evaluated. Everybody who viewed the remaster was impressed, with some saying it was like seeing the film for the first time.